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Legislature Acts to Allow Arming of VPSOs (HB199/Edgmon)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014, Juneau, Alaska – Alaska’s regional Native associations, who administer Village Public Safety Officers in a unique partnership with the Alaska Dept. of Public Safety, will now be able to choose whether or not to arm their officers under a bill that passed the 28th Alaska Legislature today.

The Alaska Senate today passed a bill by Rep. Bryce Edgmon to allow Village Public Safety Officers, or VPSOs, to carry firearms. House Bill 199 establishes the Legislature’s clear intent that VPSOs should have all the tools they need as law enforcement officers to carry out their duties.

“I appreciate the Senate’s support and thank Senator Donny Olson for carrying companion legislation and speaking for HB 199 on the Senate floor,” Edgmon, D-Dillingham, said. “After the shooting death of Manokotak VPSO Thomas Madole last year, I realized that it is just not reasonable to continue to ask these men and women to put their lives in harm’s way without being fully equipped to protect themselves.” Sen. Olson’s companion bill was SB 98.

The policy endorsed by the bill will expand VPSO training through the Alaska Dept. of Public Safety’s State Trooper Academy in Sitka. The firearms training that VPSOs will receive will be identical to State Troopers and municipal police officers.

The bill does not require VPSOs to be armed; it allows the regional Native associations and communities served by VPSOs to make that choice. “Everyone involved must have a thorough understanding of the issues surrounding arming these officers, and the ultimate decision will rest with the regional Native associations and communities,” Edgmon said. “My hope is that arming these first responders, who sometimes because of weather face hours or even days before Trooper back-up arrives, will have a deterrent effect that makes our communities safer.”

Since HB 199 was introduced last session, the Dept. of Public Safety has drafted regulations to allow properly trained VPSOs to carry firearms while on duty. The regulations also detail training and oversight. Edgmon said consultations are ongoing between the Department and Native associations to ensure the new policy is implemented carefully and methodically.

The VPSO program was started in the late 1970s as a way to provide communities in rural Alaska with local public safety services in areas where there was no local or State Trooper presence.

HB 199, which passed the House April 3, heads to the governor for signature.

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